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Sep 20 2012

I get email

Sometimes they are polite requests, but they smell fishy.

My dad is a christian who says he would be willing to read a book on evolution that includes a comprehensive list of dig sites and photos of transitional forms. Can you recommend something?

I replied. I was not kind.

He’s lying to you.

Lying, lying, lying.

He’s setting you up with preconditions so he can reject it outright. “Comprehensive list of dig sites” makes no sense at all: there are paleontological digs of fossils all over the world, in just about every state of the country. What does he want, a map of the planet?

There can be no photos of living transitional forms; the term doesn’t make sense except in the context of a phylogenetic series, which means by definition that the ‘transitional forms’ you’re looking for are extinct species.

His demands make no sense at all, except that they allow him to accommodate creationist lies and ignore the evidence. Most of that evidence for evolution is molecular and genetic; fossils only provide a partial window into our history, while most of the linkages between species are demonstrated by molecular homologies.

I’d just tell him that you’re ashamed that he’s setting such a poor example for his children. Honesty should matter more.

Sometimes, I can delude myself a bit: it’s just the leaders of creationist organizations who are dishonest, sleazy frauds; the majority are just misinformed and ignorant. And then I see stuff like that (and it comes up often) and I realize…no, the true believers are dedicated to their ignorance and actively work to maintain it.

This guy is lying to his own son. Either that or he’s a colossal idiot in all ways, which would be a whole ‘nother kind of depressing, but I’m assuming he knows that no one was standing around with a camera in the late Devonian, so sending him a photo of Tiktaalik is out of the question.

No, it’s clear what his game is: predefine the whole issue out of existence. If he were sent a photo of the Tiktaalik fossil, he’d declare it just an old fish, because he doesn’t know the anatomy. Send him a reconstructed image, he’d reject it as a fake, not a photograph at all. He has assembled a battery of rationalizations to reject every piece of evidence shown to him, rationalizations that don’t even make sense, and he doesn’t care.

These are the emails that make me cynical: the testimony to a whole world of stupid people with blinkered minds who don’t give a damn about the facts.

85 comments

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  1. 1
    jstackpo

    The lowercase “c” in “christian” is sort of a giveaway, too.

  2. 2
    richardelguru

    While you are right isn’t there a slight chance that “photos of transitional forms” means photos of fossils?

  3. 3
    JohnR

    Trying to see the other side here, what possible use can the list of dig sites be? What is the motivation? What would he do if presented with a list? Just curious

  4. 4
    Rev. BigDumbChimp

    While you are right isn’t there a slight chance that “photos of transitional forms” means photos of fossils?

    yep

    If he were sent a photo of the Tiktaalik fossil, he’d declare it just an old fish, because he doesn’t know the anatomy.

  5. 5
    oolon

    Not convinced about the lying part, he probably justifies his dogma as not being set in stone because if only someone could show him some ‘concrete’ evidence he would change his mind. That in reality this is patently not true as there is plenty of evidence he just chooses to not understand it or not seek it out is immaterial. Someone needs to lay it out in front of him in a way he can understand, regardless of this being impossible without effort on his side.

  6. 6
    Rev. BigDumbChimp

    Trying to see the other side here, what possible use can the list of dig sites be? What is the motivation? What would he do if presented with a list? Just curious

    I think PZ answered this. It’s a game of Setting up tin cans so he can shoot them down using distortion and outright lying.

    He just needs the tin cans to be set up by an evolutionist so he can then point to them and say

    “See there son, evolutionists have nothing.”

  7. 7
    stanton

    Whenever I bemoan how creationists constantly tell me that I’m a Hellbound idiot for not believing that the world and its inhabitants were magically poofed into existence by God 6 to 10 thousand years ago, or that God magically flooded the Earth with a magic flood 4 thousand years ago, my more sympathetic creationist friends then sometimes try to comfort me by implying that I’m a delusional fool for imagining that there are “rude Christians,” as such oxymoronic bugbears allegedly don’t exist in the real world.

  8. 8
    ricardodivali having sniffles over stiffles

    While you are right isn’t there a slight chance that “photos of transitional forms” means photos of fossils?

    Probably, but it’s still a bizarre request when coupled with the “list of dig sites”. Considering how little his father knows about evolution (judging from the ridiculous request) he would be better with something a lot more basic.

  9. 9
    Rev. BigDumbChimp

    Not convinced about the lying part, he probably justifies his dogma as not being set in stone because if only someone could show him some ‘concrete’ evidence he would change his mind. That in reality this is patently not true as there is plenty of evidence he just chooses to not understand it or not seek it out is immaterial. Someone needs to lay it out in front of him in a way he can understand, regardless of this being impossible without effort on his side.

    Totally disagree. This reeks of exactly what PZ said it does. It’s a game where he’s stacking the deck.

  10. 10
    Hershele Ostropoler

    johnriches @ 3, I assume that, as he thinks all the evidence is fossil evidence (because fossils are in museums), the list of sites is the equivalent of citation of sources.

  11. 11
    ftfkdad

    More kindly, I would recommend him to read “Your Inner Fish” by Neil Shubin

  12. 12
    BradC

    I think PZ is right about it being unlikely that he’s actually willing to listen to evidence, but in the off-chance that he might be willing to learn, “Why Evolution is True” by Jerry Coyne is the book that convinced me that I had been wrong about creation/evolution my whole life.

    Of course, I was in a place where I was already re-examining many areas of my beliefs and willing to admit where I was wrong. Chances are, this guy is not in that place.

  13. 13
    John Phillips, FCD

    oolon, have you ever tried, I have and have largely given up now as you can trot out all the evidence you like in as suitable a form as appears best, but the odds are, someone starting out with these types of questions or preconditions are not being truly honest. It might not be deliberate and be down to plain ignorance, but for anyone with a genuine desire in this day and age in the West, there is no shortage of instruction and information available in a level suitable to whatever their starting level of knowledge or education is on the Internet, and all free. The only time I bother at all nowadays, isfor gross examples of SIWOTI and I’ll then spend a little time correcting them for the benefit of any possible lurkers. But even then, nowadays, apart from a brief correction or two, I am far more likely to simply include a link to talk origins or similar, where every possible genuine question will find an answer.

  14. 14
    AJ Milne

    … the true believers are dedicated to their ignorance and actively work to maintain it.

    I’ve beat this horse before, but I’ll say it again anyway: I strongly suspect this is a central component of religion in general.

  15. 15
    peicurmudgeon

    All that is necessary to see a transitional species is a mirror.

  16. 16
    eric

    Another alarm bell: any kid mature enough to contest his father and savvy enough to find your email via the internet could’ve found the resources himself – probably far faster! Its not like articles on (to pick three examples) horse evolution, whale evolution, or tik are hard to find.

  17. 17
    darwinharmless

    While I enjoyed “Why Evolution is True” by Jerry Coyne, I thought “The Greatest Show on Earth” by Richard Dawkins was a better read and did a better job of organizing the arguments. That’s the book I recommend.

  18. 18
    raven

    My dad is a christian who says he would be willing to read a book on evolution that includes a comprehensive list of dig sites and photos of transitional forms.

    My dad is a pagan who says he would be willing to convert to christianity if someone has a videotape of the crucifixion and the schedule of jesus’s next TV talk show appearances. His email address and website URL would be nice to.

    If we held xians to the same standard of evidence for the claims of their religion, we would have that and a lot more.

    According to the xians, jesus not only is not dead, he is the most powerful being in his universe which he made himself. For all his claimed power, jesus does less than a cat, which is at least a tangible object.

    PS My dad also wants to know which of the 42,000 xian sects is The Real One. He doesn’t want to go to hell for picking the wrong one.

  19. 19
    kreativekaos

    richard @ 2: I would agree…if that e-mail is anywhere near legit, I would think it’s possible that ‘photos of transitional forms’ probably meant ‘photos of transitional fossils’.

    I mean, could anyone be that stupid as to think that there are photos of actual ancient living forms?
    (Dare I even ask that question??)

  20. 20
    raven

    Trying to see the other side here, what possible use can the list of dig sites be? What is the motivation? What would he do if presented with a list? Just curious

    Because he is a serial killer. Most fundies are.

    Of strawpeople. Won’t someone think of the poor strawpeople?

    If there is a hell, the fundies will all be set on fire over and over by the ghosts of torched strawpeople.

  21. 21
    footface

    I think it’s cute that you believe there’s actually a father who made this request.

  22. 22
    Nemo

    I question whether the “son” even exists. I kinda feel like that was thrown in there just to tug at your heartstrings. (Since the goal of the letter is not enlightenment for the letter writer, but either proselytization or exposure of PZ, and creationists all “know” that Darwinists are lying, but maybe PZ’s conscience (if an atheist can have such a thing) will be stirred if it’s a child that writes to him. Or something.)

  23. 23
    raven

    Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why It Matters: Donald R …
    ww.amazon.com/Evolution-What-Fossils-Say…/dp/0231139624

    Over the past twenty years,paleontologists have made tremendous fossil discoveries … In this engaging and richly illustrated book, Donald R. Prothero weaves an …. and presents the impressive transitional fossils between reptiles and birds, …

    There are a lot of great books on fossils and evolution. One that deals a lot with transitional fossils is Prothero’s. This, WEIT, Dawkins, etc. are in most public libraries for free.

    There are also huge resources on the net, wikipedia, google, and Pharyngula among them.

    People have it right. The vast ignorance of the fundie xians requires a lot of effort to maintain. Sometimes being ignorant is a lot harder than being educated.

    It also has a high cost. Fundie xianity seems to cause severe cognitive impairment. Just look what it did to Bachmann, and where do you think internet trolls come from?

  24. 24
    kingeofdremes

    I’m curious to know what would happen if a creationist were shown a picture of, or, better yet, a living example of an atavistic creature, like a living snake or whale with hind legs, teeth in chickens, or humans with tails (…maybe not that last one…). Would they consider that an example of a “transitional form”?

  25. 25
    Ing

    Apparently oolan has never met a pile of bullshit he didn’t think was delicious chocolate icecream

  26. 26
    michaelcooper

    Of course there are photos…”Jurassic Park” was a documentary, naturally.

  27. 27
    raven

    I’m curious to know what would happen if a creationist were shown a picture of, or, better yet, a living example of an atavistic creature,

    They’ve been show pictures of atavisms, humans with tails, humans covered with fur, whales with legs, etc. many times.

    What happens is…nothing.

    To be as ignorant as a fundie takes a lot of work. Even dynamite won’t get through their mental blocks.

  28. 28
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    I see Oolon needs Pharyngula Products™ heavy duty Bullshit Detector™. Evidently Oolon’s built in model is defective/non-existent. The quotes from the creobot almost pegged my meter, and would have broke it without the optional Bullshit Surge Protector Input Filter™, which got very toasty on those lies.

  29. 29
  30. 30
    Ing

    @nerd

    Excusing ans swallowing bull seems to be his shtick

  31. 31
    David Marjanović

    I question whether the “son” even exists. I kinda feel like that was thrown in there just to tug at your heartstrings.

    Sure, but it allows PZ to say “your dad is lying to you” instead “you’re lying”. =8-)

  32. 32
    Hershele Ostropoler

    eric @ 16:

    Its not like articles on (to pick three examples) horse evolution, whale evolution, or tik are hard to find.

    All Google is giving me for that last is a South African slang term for crystal meth.

  33. 33
    hockeybob

    Here’s a photo for this guy, with TWO transitional forms – I think one of them is Piltdown Man himself!

    http://freethinker.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2009/04/ham2.jpg

  34. 34
    blf

    Yes, taking the letter at face-value, the father was setting up some preconditions. But (1) Did he realise he was setting up preconditions; And/Or (2) Deliberately intend them to be absurd?

    There’s a meme that many cretinistas are — as that term implies — stoopid. Some seem to, and perhaps really don’t, grasp certain fundamentals of logic. As I recall, Richard Dawkins whinged about this in The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution. The example I (vaguely) recall right now is not realizing that not liking an idea or its implications is not a valid argument against the idea / implications. (A motivation to find some counter-evidence or insist on solid pro-evidence, yes, but not a logically-sound argument.) If the father doesn’t really grasp logical argument then would he necessarily grasp that he is setting preconditions? (Maybe, some people can be both stupid and cunning.)

    Similarly, if you really don’t grasp an idea, your initial thoughts about the idea and what the relevant evidence might be can be faulty. Within the last hour, I just had a case of this myself, committed by myself, at work, where I used the fact that X worked to deduce that a sub-component Y used by X must be working. An expert set me straight, namely, (a) Y is not used for the part of X I’d mistakenly thought it was used for, and (b) Y has caused problems in the past so its current “usage” (in a different part of X) is, in fact, simulated (faked). Returning to the letter, the list of sites and pictures of transistional forms might be faulty assumptions about what “proves” evolution… or it might not be, instead being deliberate.

    I do think poopyhead should have mentioned Why Evolution is True by Jerry Coyne (which I haven’t read myself) and/or Dawkins’s book, in addition to the points he made in his reply. (I can see that saying “Dawkins” to a committed faerie-botherer might be problematical.)

  35. 35
    greg1466

    Well, he didn’t actually say he wanted photos of living transitional forms. But even if he did, isn’t every biological form a transitional form by definition?

  36. 36
    nowimnothing

    I will just leave this here in case someone has not seen it yet.

    Penn on Romney’s magical underwear and batshit craziness.
    http://youtu.be/_qJDd-2tM-A

    Warning, strong language.

  37. 37
    Rev. BigDumbChimp

    I will just leave this here in case someone has not seen it yet.

    Penn on Romney’s magical underwear and batshit craziness.
    http://youtu.be/_qJDd-2tM-A

    Warning, strong language.

    Strange thread to leave that in…

    Try here.

  38. 38
    The Dancing Monk

    When ever I get asked about transitional forms I tell them to look at their parents.

  39. 39
    slatham

    My boss recently loaned me “A Fish Caught in Time” by Samantha Weinberg. It’s about discovery that coelacanths are extant rather than only fossils. ‘Living fossils’. This discovery was made at a time when there was no molecular genetic evidence, and people were nevertheless aware of the significance of the discovery. The global press went wild for the story. I repeat, people understood the discovery at the time despite (as PZ says) not having access to most of the evidence for evolution. We seem not to have come very far since then, despite the ever growing evidence. Either we need a new way to capture the public’s imagination or … I dunno.

  40. 40
    Glen Davidson

    The trouble with a request like that is that transitionals are only identified in the same manner that we used to see our linkages with fish, by morphological similarities. Most likely the creationist wants the “true ancestors” as well, not the transitionals we have that almost certainly aren’t ancestral to current forms, merely being part of the adaptive radiation that included such ancestors.

    So if he won’t accept the evidence that actually indicates evolution in living forms, why would he accept the lesser (morphology, not the genetic data we have for current life) evidence that exists for transitionals?

    Evidence of common ancestry and of relatedness exists throughout all of life. And what reason does any IDiot/creationist have for even one transitional (never mind IDiots like Behe who accept common ancestry–why would any designer design like that in the first place?), and why do they suppose that somehow we just don’t “have enough” transitionals? Accept the evidence for what it is, and you won’t need any “comprehensive” list, since evidence for evolution is ubiquitous in life.

    Btw, if the creationist’s demands were met he’d be whining that he didn’t understand it, since almost none of them does anyway.

    Glen Davidson

  41. 41
    d.f.manno

    @ johnriches (#3):

    Trying to see the other side here, what possible use can the list of dig sites be?

    Targets for vandalism?

  42. 42
    scottplumer

    I think you dropped the ball here, doc. It seems like you had an opportunity to educate someone and didn’t take advantage of it. Granted, I agree it was probably bait for some nefarious scheme, by why not take them at their word and then call them out for bearing false witness?

    Though in fairness, I’ve been debating some believers online myself, and it can be tiring.

  43. 43
    No One

    I confused. Where does the gray start?

    http://www.outbackphoto.com/workflow/wf_74/gradient.jpg

    I’m confused. Which is the transitional species?

  44. 44
    Ing

    by why not take them at their word and then call them out for bearing false witness?

    Because life is short

  45. 45
    Sastra

    Atheists ask better questions than theists do: that’s why we’re atheists.

    I think one has to learn to ask better questions. It doesn’t come naturally. Or, at least, it doesn’t come easily. You have to give yourself permission and discipline yourself to throw out — or set aside — sloppy habits, lazy conventions, “common sense,” “intuitive” givens, traditional assumptions, unquestioned dogma, and our innate human tendencies to err on the side of what we hope, expect, and need to be true.

    It seems to me that religious forms of thought fight against this cautious, analytical, objective approach in favor of one which gives in to it and calls it virtue and humility. “Faith” fights against mental discipline and the faithful loyally try to join in the battle. They seem to do this not only when they’re with dealing with issues which are directly related God and spirit, but whenever any other issue is less directly involved. Like evolution. As PZ once said, “science changes the way you think.”

    The father in this letter (assuming there is such a person) need not be knowingly lying to his son. He’s probably unconsciously lying to himself by telling himself he can use his religious mode of thinking to figure out what is a good science question.

    He ought to realize that he can’t. Science is work.

  46. 46
    unclefrogy

    If anyone living where they would have internet access would feel the need to ask some prominent blogger for a long objective proof for evolution and a complete list of fossil digs, they are being disingenuous.
    All anyone would have to do is ask any librarian in there school or in any public library they can find that still is open and has anyone working in it for the information.
    The message is just argument bait.
    uncle frogy

  47. 47
    michaelbusch

    If this were to be an honest question, there’s a couple of cool possibilities for the request for pictures of transitional forms:

    We could get pictures of Lenski’s e. coli – especially since he has archived every 500th generation or so on ice, samples of the entire lineage can be brought back to life. Of course, the changes aren’t particularly impressive on visual inspection, as cool as they are biochemically.

    There was another experimental evolution project, showing how easy it can be to go from single-celled to multi-cellular forms of yeast (centrifuge the culture and throw away the top 90% of the column every time). That one looks suitably dramatic.

  48. 48
    twas brillig (stevem)

    Related to my post the other day about the platypus being an ideal “transitional” species, I’m beginning to see what the cretins really mean by “transitional”. Seems to me they are completely misunderstanding the “random” aspect of evolution. And instead of “random” meaning small genetic mutations, instead it means assembling creatures from a random selection of various pieces. Like the classic “crocoduck” with a crocodile head on a duck’s body. Why don’t we ever see such “random assemblies”? That is what this guy’s dad is asking for. All existing creatures are “clearly perfect” and thus “created by God”. Like saying cars evolved, so why don’t any have square wheels?

  49. 49
    NitricAcid

    @47- The father clearly wouldn’t accept the various transitional E. Coli, as “they’re all just germs. Where’s the transitional species between a germ and a person?”

  50. 50
    JohnnieCanuck

    No, not all species extant today are transitional. Potentially, yes but not certainly. The only way to know is to wait and see.

    Extinction looms large for thousands or perhaps millions of species today. Many will become extinct without ever being described for science. Obviously there will be no intermediate species and no species subsequent to them if the original species is gone.

    These illustrations of a chain of intermediate species leading up to a modern horse or whale are misleading, at least to laymen. It’s not that simple. Each one of those individual transitional fossils may or may not be ancestral to the next one in the chain. It’s likely it is closely related to the actual ancestral species but there’s no way to be certain. With fossils, we take what we get.

    When we look closely, most of the time that ancestral tree isn’t so much composed of single branches as intertwining vines diverging and merging.

    Someone has to get these evolution-doubting creationists into this century. Even if not a single fossil had ever formed, we have all the evidence we need in the genomes of extant species. Evolution is one of the best supported theories we have and some of the evidence can be found in the DNA of creationists. Well, any human actually.

  51. 51
    No One

    JohnnieCanuck

    Obviously there will be no intermediate species and no species subsequent to them if the original species is gone.

    And those before them? What would we call them? Either I’m missing something or your explanation is less than clear.

  52. 52
    hypatiasdaughter

    If PZ is now in the business of spoon feeding idjits…
    Please, sir, can you send me:
    1) a video of the Earth orbiting the Sun
    2) a photograph of our Milky Way Galaxy showing the bright core and spiral arms; and
    3) a video of of electrons orbiting the nucleus of the atom.
    Because if they are all true, someone, somewhere must have pictures.

  53. 53
    michaelbusch

    @NitricAcid:

    As I said, “if this were to be an honest question”. It most probably is not. The multi-cellular yeast was very cool, though.

    @52:

    Re. 3: Electrons don’t orbit (the Bohr model is a convenient approximation for a single electron). They are confined to wavefunctions called orbitals, which describe their distribution in space. And those have been imaged directly – the orbitals of graphene are particularly nice, because the electrons form a hexagonal lattice. But I’ll assume you knew that.

  54. 54
    oolon

    @John Phillips, FCD

    oolon, have you ever tried, I have and have largely given up now as you can trot out all the evidence you like in as suitable a form as appears best, but the odds are, someone starting out with these types of questions or preconditions are not being truly honest.

    Yeah sorry I agree with you – I did re-read my comment and think I was not being clear that I meant intentionally dishonest. I absolutely think he is lying to himself and any scenario of evidence being presented would result in it being rejected as not being quite good enough.

    Bit like any evidence I could present to Ing and Nerd to demonstrate I’m not a liar/bullshitter/whatever their latest ‘schtick’ is :)

  55. 55
    kayden

    If the Letter Writer is authentic, he could check out “Panda’s Thumb”, “Talk Origins”, and “Becoming.Human.org” to learn about evolution. I’m not science-minded at all, but those sites break things down for the scientifically illiterate and make evolution relatively easy to understand.

    The LW may be fake, but I am sure there are loads of Christians who want to learn more about the theory of evolution. At least I hope there are since science plays such an important role in our lives and should not be ignored.

  56. 56
    lofgren

    I doubt the father is lying. I think it is more likely that he has been told that these are the things he should request/are lacking from evolutionists.

    He believes that his request makes sense, because everything he knows about evolution he learned from dishonest creationists.

    He believes that nobody could possibly respond to the request, because he has been told that evolution is a nonsensical theory, and these are two of its flaws.

  57. 57
    lofgren

    Just to be kind of a dick:

    I confused. Where does the gray start?

    The gray starts with the 46th row of pixels from the top. It ends at the bottom of the picture, because the image never fades to true black.

  58. 58
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    Bit like any evidence I could present to Ing and Nerd to demonstrate I’m not a liar/bullshitter/whatever their latest ‘schtick’ is :)

    You aren’t getting it. You are fooled by those who deliberately lie and bullshit, as you take them at face value. A naive outlook, not a skeptical one, which questions everything and everybody. Those of us with experience recognize certain “tells”, like dog whistles and code words, that are used by people trying to pretend they aren’t lying, engaging in presupposition, or bigotry of various forms.

  59. 59
    anbheal

    I would tell my father that we have never seen a certified legal birth certificate showing that Jesus was actually born in Bethlehem. The Mormons say it was Jerusalem. He’s probably a secret Jerusalite, waiting for the right moment to impose Jerusa’lia on us. After taking away our spears and re-fashioning them as plowshares. Socialist plowshares.

  60. 60
    Joshua Bennett

    I saw one other person point it out, but it bears repeating:

    PZ, you didn’t read his email very carefully. You said, “There can be no photos of living transitional forms,” yet he never requested pictures of “living” transitional forms. Why jump down his throat for saying something he never said?

  61. 61
    Hershele Ostropoler

    So You Don’t Have To, I did some googling and I think the dig sites thing is a sort CT, along the lines of, paleontologists know evolution is false/creationism is true, they’re finding evidence left and right, but they’re keeping it secret because conspiracy.

  62. 62
    cassandro

    Way to assume I’m a guy, everybody.

  63. 63
    Joshua Bennett

    Sorry, cassandro. PZ referred to you as “his own son”, and we figured he had some reason to suspect you were a dude. In retrospect, it looks like PZ made some other rather tenuous assumptions when reading your email, so…

  64. 64
    andrewriding

    2: It doesn’t take long to identify creationist propaganda’s flavor in the things people say. This man has clearly either already been taught how to dismiss anything presented to him or where to go if he’s stumped so that the ‘experts’ can tell him there’s no substance to any of it.

    9: What is comes down to is that he’s not a liar because that is a negative sounding trait so naturally he wouldn’t do that because he is concerned with being good. Instead he’ll just find verbal loop holes, and sometimes misrepresent the facts for people’s own good, since he knows what’s good for them.

    Well the way I’ve described it there is probably still too harsh for him to see in himself but I’m sure you can imagine some flowery language that is equivalent to “he’s lying” as soon as you stop to think about what it actually means, he just knows how to not ever think about that.

    The other important factor though is that he thinks he’s doing something good. It obviously clashes with a lot of principles we value and that he’d even say he values, but the only real gamble here is on whether or not he gives a damn about internal consistency- and that bet is stacked heavily against the consistency.

    12: Even if he has significant doubts that have him on the road away from creationism he’s still going to reject anything that supports evolution… at first glance. You don’t spout of these kind of lines when you’ve cut the umbilical cord to float freely- at best there are those hidden doubts and this could take them one small step further with the actual result only being evident a long ways down the line.

    Well no, at best the guy has a very good memory so he’s able to repeat this stuff but never really built it into the foundation of his thinking. That’s really improbably given the details available to us though.

    16: Sure but he’s hoping to find a knock down resource that creationists won’t be able to dismiss. I definitely wouldn’t expect teenagers just starting to express conflicting worldviews to their parents to expect some people to be beyond the most solid of evidence.

    21: While I agree this has a high chance of being a constructed situation there are actually people that trot out demands exactly like this to anyone that supports evolution in front of them. They legitimately don’t expect anyone to be able to present “good evidence” and haven’t studied much or thought about the nature of their demands.

    In this case I’d lean against it being constructed so much because it lets us easily root for the child. There’s nothing in this to try and cause internal turmoil for PZ so they would need to have strategically decided to only mine information with this, but then also have decided that deception was necessary to achieve that. Still possible but not quite the standard mode of operation.

  65. 65
    michealplanck

    Cassandro, did you consider that PZ might have changed your gender so as to protect your identity?

  66. 66
    Jason

    Dear cretinshit Creationist Dad,

    The Burgess Shale.

    Love,
    Knowing things.

  67. 67
    Ing

    Cassandro, did you consider that PZ might have changed your gender so as to protect your identity?

    That’s a stretch. Be fair, not generous

  68. 68
    chigau (違う)

    Who’s Cassandro?

  69. 69
    age87

    Some people lack any logic and proudly go along with any believe or stupid idea they’ve had for a long time. One lady I know said that in elementary school her biology teachers said the sun was vital for life, but since it’s known that organisms (like Archaea)live in the bottom of the ocean (she ment chemotrophs vs phototrophs)biologist must be wrong about everything else, especially evolution. No hope for some people!

  70. 70
    oolon

    @Nerd, Ing,

    You aren’t getting it. You are fooled by those who deliberately lie and bullshit, as you take them at face value. A naive outlook, not a skeptical one, which questions everything and everybody. Those of us with experience recognize certain “tells”, like dog whistles and code words, that are used by people trying to pretend they aren’t lying, engaging in presupposition, or bigotry of various forms.

    I spot bullshit above :-) How is it sceptical to divine the underlying meaning of words and find certainty in your position of a barefaced lie. Language is not precise enough for that sort of certainty without the magic of your experience. I’ve recently met quite a few on the internet with ‘experience’ of ‘X**’ and in their ‘experience’ they have all turned out to be the most horrible people. So they decide all of them must be the most awful liars/shits/assholes ignoring the possibility their experience might not be a complete one and the fact that they have met a small sample of people.
    **X can be FtB’ers, radfems, feminists etc etc

    But of course you are different, there is something wrong *about* those people (Not that they are clearly just wrong in their conclusions). You have some sort of infallibility that means you are not subject to the same cognitive errors. Carry on toting your Pharyngula-brand bullshit detector but excuse me if I am sceptical about it.

  71. 71
    Nick Gotts

    Do we have any reason at all to believe that cassandro wrote the email? Because I’m not seeing it. Xe doesn’t make such a claim in any explicit way.

  72. 72
    cassandro

    Jason, I told him about the Burgess Shale. He was visibly shaken. As I explained to PZ in another email, he’s a long time recreational textbook reader (generally not biology, obviously), and I think a good, comprehensive book would do him a lot of good. PZ recommended Don Prothero.

    Nick Gotts, why aren’t you seeing it?

  73. 73
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    You have some sort of infallibility that means you are not subject to the same cognitive errors. Carry on toting your Pharyngula-brand bullshit detector but excuse me if I am sceptical about it.

    Nice bullshit. You aren’t skeptical enough. Otherwise, you wouldn’t be a concern troll. Try reality. You make mistakes. Start there. The infallibility you claim I have is a projection of your egotistical attitudes.

  74. 74
    Nick Gotts

    cassandro,

    PZ does not name his correspondent – if he confirms that his correspondent gave the name “cassandro”, then obviously that would confirm your identity. But you first appear in the thread @62, saying:

    Way to assume I’m a guy, everybody.

    That’s been taken as an implicit claim that you are that correspondent, but you hadn’t provided any evidence for that implicit claim at the point I queried it. Why should I just believe what some random person says on the internet?

  75. 75
    pipenta

    @ slatham,

    A friend who works at Yale’s Peabody told me that when the museum first got their coelacanth specimen, they put it on public display. People lined up around the block to see it. Think of that!

    I do believe that the trend is to let one’s brain atrophy whilst one sits on the couch and watches liposuctioned celebs and animatronic pundits. If the radio talk show hosts on your morning commute and the stars on the red carpet all act (on camera at least) as if they had brains the size of chestnuts, what possible good could intellectual curiosity have? What purpose do non-narcissistic activities serve?

    Religion still fits the bill, because what is religion but ignoring nature and the planet and holding a mirror up to ourselves? No, it’s the biggest mirror held up to the alpha males of the troop. The rest of us are commanded to admire the enlarged and distorted reflection. It is, of course, a horrid fun house mirror.

    And we’d ask people to notice a pickled fish specimen? One that is offered without cream sauce or even onions? That’s just not so sexy to them.

  76. 76
    Ing

    @Oolan

    If you’re genuine your pathetic and irritating if you’re trolling you’re moronic and irritating. Either way don’t bother talking to me again doormat.

  77. 77
    Owlmirror

    [Positing that the letter writer is following the thread]

    The link I posted @#29 above is written by a paleontologist, and describes exactly what a transitional organism is — not a chimera or fusion of two different types of animals, but one which shows characteristics that are shared between earlier original and more modified later organisms, on a phylogenetic (descent-with-modification) tree.

    I highly recommend it, because it explains the distinction between what creationists confusedly might think a transitional organism is, and what actual scientists call a transitional organism.

    It is a few years old now, and David Marjanović did complain that the author made some minor mistake about one of the details of one of the organisms described (I don’t recall what it was, exactly, now, but he might re-read the essay and explain it again), but I think it’s otherwise appropriate.

    [Charitably accepting that cassandro is the letter writer]

    As I explained to PZ in another email, he’s a long time recreational textbook reader

    You might offer him one of Carl Zimmer’s two recent works:

    The Tangled Bank: An Introduction to Evolution

    Evolution: Making Sense of Life

    Both of which appear to be textbooks or textbook-like.

  78. 78
    Eric Saveau

    Hi, Cassandro. A word, if I may: You seem a bit annoyed at the skeptical reception you’re getting, and while that’s understandable it’s worth noting that it is a feature rather than a bug.

    This is one of many communities that are frequently trolled by people who do not approach to argue in good faith and are impervious to facts and reason. Letters like the one PZ shared above are a fairly typical example of how they often start out. This of course does not mean that there are absolutely no honest people who use such openings, but long grim experience has shown that it is the safe way to bet. The benefit of the doubt cannot be initially granted after it has been eroded away.

    But this does not mean that there is no path through to good discussion. When someone does approach in good faith to have an honest discussion, this tends to become apparent after a while and then lively talk is had by all.

    FWIW, I am leaning toward your sincerity. Stick around and talk. You’ll find a whole lot of good folks who will be valuable resources on all manner of topics, not just evolutionary biology. Some of them are on this very thread and have engaged you. With, to be sure, a measure of suspicion. So what? Engage them back. Ask questions. Pay attention to the answers. Tell them what you think. Think about what they say in response. The fact that you thought to ask PZ for some pointers suggests that you knew there was something of value here; stick around and join in. Good folks make for good communities, online or off. Maybe you’ll make a place for yourself here.

  79. 79
    cassandro

    Owlmirror, I know what a transitional form is, I’m reasonably well read, but a sincere thanks, anyway. I really am just asking for my father.

    Eric, I fully give everyone a pass here. I know you guys are cocked and ready with a hair trigger with all the MRA bullshit of late.

    Nick, fair enough. I just noticed the “xe” by the way, and I appreciate it.

  80. 80
    Owlmirror

    Owlmirror, I know what a transitional form is, I’m reasonably well read, but a sincere thanks, anyway. I really am just asking for my father.

    For “recommend it”, read “recommend it for your father”. The crux of the matter, after all, was “Does the father know what a transitional organism is? Does he actually care?”

    Would he read “Your Inner Fish”, by Neil Shubin, which describes how Tiktaalik was found? Shubin describes the “dig site” on Ellesmere Island in Nunavut, in some detail.

  81. 81
    andrewriding

    70: We do get fairly jaded after talking to a lot of creationists but if you’ve pushed to topic onto some people IRL or been around somebody that does that a lot you start to get it in your head that what you’re seeing on the internet is actually a good representation of anybody that’s going to personally defend creationism.

    A little more time spent on the subject and you get to where you could point to which big name Creationist(s) they heard this from (provided you make any effort to learn those names and what those people have said,) simply because they’re all very much broken records- it’s the same phrases over and over again, even when you’ve watched them corrected on video over and over they just won’t change what they’re saying- and in a lot of ways that’s very much on purpose.

    They know that most of the people who listen to them won’t spend a significant amount of time listening to counter arguments so they’d definitely like it to seem like no scientist has ever said anything that would require them to adjust their claims. There’s no doubt that these sources of creationist phrases don’t give a damn about the honest pursuit of knowledge; they will happily trot out arguments that they definitely know are flawed, caring only that these will sound convincing to people who don’t know any better.
    And repetition is kind of stock religious fare in the first place.

    Now, going a bit more with my gut I expect the most fruitful results for something like this from people that didn’t pick up “the style” of the arguments and thus are fairly happy to include the names of those authority figures they heard them from when they speak. There’s still a terribly slim chance with this but I’ve seen significantly better results out of that group- not generally full atheism conversions but at least backing up to the point where they agree that science doesn’t support a young Earth and that a lot of key creationist bible verses make more sense as metaphors.

    79: Paying attention to the MRA stuff bumps you up past my 95% certainty mark. I don’t think I’ve ever seen creationist spies pay attention to details like that- they’re just not that good at infiltration.

    So have you keep away from the topic or is there any update you could give on modifications to what your father has requested?

  82. 82
    cassandro

    Owlmirror, I genuinely think if he understood better he would come around, at least a little. I’m currently pursuing your recommendations and PZ’s.

    andrewriding, I clarified what I meant exactly in my second email to PZ, and told him I’d let him know how things turned out.

  83. 83
    Owlmirror

    It is a few years old now, and David Marjanović did complain that the author made some minor mistake about one of the details of one of the organisms described (I don’t recall what it was, exactly, now, but he might re-read the essay and explain it again), but I think it’s otherwise appropriate.

    Since David Marjanović apparently didn’t read/comment on this, I thought I would track down the comment containing his response (which was more work than I thought it would be).

    Here’s what he wrote:

    A good article, by an author who presented a talk on paleoclimatology at the SVP meeting last year. In the interest of pedantry, though… she missed a few things that are outside her apparent area of experience.

    - Ichthyostega was incapable of putting its feet on the ground. That’s been known since the early 1990s. If it ever moved on land at all, it did so like a seal.
    - In the three drawings of skulls of “modern fishes”, the “frontal” and “parietal” are the parietal and postparietal, respectively. That’s been suspected since the early 20th century and demonstrated with the discovery of Panderichthys a few decades ago, but the ichthyologists are only now beginning to notice. Their traditional nomenclature for skull bones comes from a futile attempt to directly see the mammalian pattern in carps, trouts, and the like. “Dermosphenotic” my ass, it’s just the intertemporal…
    - Most importantly, Panderichthys, Tiktaalik, Acanthostega and Ichthyostega are just four examples out of a vast array of relevant animals. Here is the latest addition; click on the links on the left to learn about the other Devonian ones — and just the Devonian ones; there are lots and lots in the Carboniferous, starting with this one.

  84. 84
    Crissa

    What would be really awesome is a app that took a database of URLs and biological connections and let you zoom in and travel down them, with each level of zoom finding species fossil or extant and the significant biological feature that split them into classification groups. Then you could click on them and go to wikipedia or something, but mostly, you could wander up and down the branches by seeing each significant development at various levels of zoom.

  85. 85
    Crissa

    But basically, a viewer that was laid out in such a way that there was always something between each division, to discover new in-betweens as you read it.

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